[Met Performance] CID:318640
New Production
Madama Butterfly {691} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/1/1994.

(Debut: Pierre Lefèbvre, Alyssa Aftab, Daniele Gatti

Metropolitan Opera House
December 1, 1994
New Production


Cio-Cio-San.............Catherine Malfitano
Pinkerton...............Richard Leech
Suzuki..................Wendy White
Sharpless...............Dwayne Croft
Goro....................Pierre Lefèbvre [Debut]
Bonze...................James Courtney
Yamadori................Christopher Schaldenbrand
Dolore..................Alyssa Aftab [Debut]
Kate Pinkerton..........Margaret Lattimore
Commissioner............Bradley Garvin
Registrar...............Dennis Williams

Conductor...............Daniele Gatti [Debut]

Production..............Giancarlo Del Monaco
Designer................Michael Scott
Lighting designer.......Gil Wechsler

Madama Butterfly received twenty-one performances this season.

Production gift of the Gramma Fisher Foundation

Additional production gift by Mr. and Mrs. Paul M. Montrone

Review of Michael Redmond in the Newark Star

'Madama Butterfly' causes more than a flutter

NEW YORK-From every angle one chooses to view it, the Metropolitan Opera's new production of "Madama Butterfly" is a triumph, pure and simple. Even the controversial bits, and they are surprisingly few, add just that touch of shock that new stagings require in order to be certified as important. Beg, borrow or steal a ticket.

That some members of the first-night audience chose to boo Giancarlo del Monaco proves that you cannot please all the people, all the time - especially when some of them happen to be diehard traditionalists.

The most obvious point about del Monaco's staging is its traditionalism. This "Butterfly" pays exquisite attention to period and to setting, and is generally respectful of the opera's performance tradition. But del Monaco's vision is indeed radical in at least two respects. Del Monaco's "Butterfly" is not about singing - it's about Cio-Cio San's love for Pinkerton, and about how unworthy Pinkerton is of such a love.

That Pinkerton, the prototype of the Ugly American, is a cad and a bounder is hardly news. Splendidly sung and strongly acted by Richard Leech, del Monaco's Pinkerton has deeper problems. Swigging whiskey from a hip flask, this Pinkerton appears to be an alcoholic, carrying all the emotional freight that such a condition implies.

I mean, this guy's out of control. At the wedding party Pinkerton invites his nautical underlings to ogle his new wife as if she were a hooker. In the love scene, he is so overcome with lust that he cannot even wait to get into the bedroom - he starts stripping his clothing off, while they are still in the garden. Pinkerton pounces on Butterfly, a 15-year-old virgin, like a slobbering animal.

This is surely not a pretty sight, and when experienced in the context of Butterfly's wide-eyed romantic intoxication, Puccini's unspeakably glorious music and Michael Scott's swoony Japanese nightscape, the love scene acquires a dark resonance that is new and quite disturbing.

Singing her first Met Butterfly, Catherine Malfitano took New York by storm. One reaches for the customary superlatives to describe such a performance Malfitano gave, and one comes up empty-handed. No Butterfly in this reviewer's theatrical experience provides a precedent for acting of such power, singing of such sheen and assurance. One sits there, with all the clichés of this opera, with all the Gran Scena bits, gone and forgotten. One sits riveted by a Butterfly who is a figure of genuine tragedy - and who is also, glory be, a genuine lyrico-spirito with an incredible ear for color.

A telling detail: Malfitano sang "Un bel di," turned around, walked upstage into the house, and disappeared. You could have heard a pin drop in the Met.

This production was strongly cast, first to last. Dwayne Croft was a young, sonorous and sympathetic Sharpless, dignified as all get-out. Wendy White's warm-hearted, voluble Suzuki was memorably vivid. Pierre Lefebvre was a slick, funny Goro - in this production Goro falls into a stream and emerges sopping wet as he makes his escape from Butterfly's wrath. Alyssa Aftab was so good as Trouble that someone ought to sign this kid right now - she recovered from a fall with perfect aplomb and went about her character's business.

In the pit, Daniele Gatti made the most auspicious Met conducting debut since that of Valery Gergiev. The young Italian, who is music director of Rome's hallowed Academy of Saint Cecilia and principal guest conductor at Covent Garden, worked hand-in-glove with Giancarlo del Monaco in creating a: "Madame Butterfly" that flowed with what seemed to be a natural inevitability. Bravo.

The entire production brims with fine touches. At the Met, "The Star Spangled Banner" does not leap out of the fabric of the score: Goro actually raises a flag. When Pinkerton sees it, he toasts it, and so the episode is all of a piece. The picture-taking scene at the wedding is a howl.

This "Butterfly" takes place entirely outdoors, framed by the enormous sky. Butterfly does her wash in an unseen stream, where Trouble enjoys a bath - we're talking real water. The blossoming trees in Acts II and III are breathtaking in their restrained beauty. Gil Wechsler's lighting alone is worth the Met's ticket.

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